The kitten everyone wants to play chess against - The Storiest
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From January 1 Chess.com – the main platform for playing chess online, very popular with amateurs and professionals alike – presented on the site five new chess engines against which users can play, each represented by a chat avatar. “Chess engines” are the name given to common artificial intelligence software that plays chess, often also called “bots”, i.e. those who are challenged in a game “against computer”: Chess.com there are many of them, which usually differ depending on the difficulty level you want to play.
Among the new chess engines introduced by the site, there is one that attracts absolutely exceptional attention and which apparently brings millions of people to the platform ready to compete with him: his creators called him Mittens and his avatar is a very harmless-looking kitten, but he is designed to beat his opponents in a particularly nasty and was able to win even against Grandmasters (the most important prize for chess players) and international champions competing for the world title.
In recent years, many new people have become passionate about chess, which is now a much more popular and followed sport than it was not so long ago. Several factors have contributed to fueling this interest: starting with the very popular television series The queen of chessreleased on Netflix in 2020, until the much-discussed case in recent months that involved world champion Magnus Carlsen and 19-year-old chess player Hans Niemann, accused of cheating in a game in which he himself beat Carlsen.
But nothing has worked as well as an attractive item like the Mittens bot: since its introduction, Chess.com on average 27.5 million games played per day, 40% more than the average day of any other month in the history of the platform. In December until Chess.com there had been a total of 609 million matches, and it had become by far the month with the most matches on the platform: in January it already exceeded 850 million.
Every day, millions of people enter the site just to challenge Mittens, almost always losing, and many talk about it in chess forums, on social networks and in dedicated videos on YouTube. A recent video by famed grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura titled “Bot Mittens Will Make You Quit Chess” has had 3.5 million views in just a few days.
Mittens is certainly not the first bot capable of beating the best chess champions in the world, and indeed it has been several decades since human beings have been able to win against high-level chess engines. : what is most striking about him is the way he wins and what he says in discussions with his opponents, who in most cases confront him just to see like, how they will be beaten, already considering what is going to happen.
The treacherous player personality attributed to him then clashes in a mocking way with the innocuous image of his avatar, making him a perfect meme for the Internet: he is a kitten, that is to say the animal that , even in ironically, is now considered the most loved and shared online, but it is also a troll who provokes his adversaries by what he says and what he does. Above all, it is a clear testament to how chess has touched the general public in recent years, and how the sport is no longer tied to anything but a small circle of extremely thoughtful and skilled players.
Who designed and created Mittens did all of this on purpose: initially Will Whalen, the student who first came up with the idea, simply thought of putting an incredibly strong robot behind an image of a harmless, cute being; it was then Sean Becker, driving for Chess.com the group of people who took care to develop his personality, thinking to make him a provocative player without mercy for his opponents.
Contrary to what usually happens with bots Chess.com, from the beginning, his level of play was deliberately hidden, to fuel mystery and curiosity about him. Games against him have been described as exhausting: instead of just winning quickly, Mittens always chooses a game strategy that involves long positional battles, and for this he often ends up demoralizing the opponents facing him. For this reason, his playing style has been compared to that of Russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov, world chess champion in the 1970s and 1980s.
Additionally, when he wins, or at other times in the game, Mittens writes to his opponents often speaking through quotes from historical figures, such as the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche or the theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer, considered the “father of the atomic bomb”.
Hikaru Nakamura, who managed to equalize against him, commented: “This cat is extremely patient: which I must say is quite annoying.” Well-known youtuber and International Master (the most prestigious post after Grand Master) Levy Rozman commented more ironically: “This bot is a psycho.”